Can Diet Ease MS Fatigue? Clinical Trial, Now Recruiting, Wants to Find Out

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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The National Multiple Sclerosis Society  announced that it has dedicated more than $1 million to support a clinical study at the University of Iowa that will compare two types of diet and their effectiveness in easing fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

“The National MS Society is committed to identifying wellness solutions to help people live their best lives,” Bruce Bebo, PhD, the Society’s executive vice president, Research, said in a press release.  “We’re very pleased to support a rigorous clinical trial to test the ability of two popular MS dietary approaches to address the disabling symptom of fatigue.”

Numerous studies have looked at dietary approaches to treating disease symptoms, but the protocols of many for MS were not sufficiently rigorous to provide suitable evidence for treatment recommendations.  The new trial was carefully designed to understand the impact of diet on MS-related fatigue and other symptoms experienced by people with the disease.

The 36-week trial will enroll 100 patients with a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) and symptoms of fatigue.  Patients will be asked to follow their normal diet for 12 weeks, after which they will be randomized to either the Swank diet, which is low in saturated fats, or the Wahls diet,  a modified Paleolithic diet, for a 24-week period. Patients’ health and activities will be closely monitored throughout the trial.

Dr. Terry Wahls, the study’s lead investigator, was diagnosed with RRMS in 2000. She spent over a decade studying certain foods and vitamins, and their effects on health. Based on her experience, she created the Wahls Protocol diet, an adapted form of the well-known Paleolithic diet that does not incorporate eggs, dairy products, grains, legumes, or nightshade vegetables (like eggplants, tomatoes and peppers), but rather emphasizes foods likely available to the earliest humans: meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables.

“Together with the National MS Society, and this grant, we will be able to take our long-standing work even further, examining how food and nutrients can impact the lives of people with multiple sclerosis,” said Wahls.

The Swank Diet is a diet that is low in saturated fat, proposed in 1948 by Dr. Roy Laver Swank for the treatment of MS. The diet was created after he realized that incidences of MS were higher in geographic areas where people ate more meats, eggs, cheese, and milk, than in areas where they ate more fish. He spent more than 50 years recommending this diet to his patients and monitoring their health.

Studies have shown that both diets have a beneficial health impact on patients with MS.

Screening questionnaires for anyone interested in participating in the clinical trial are available at, using the code: JMJPYEJHP.  For questions, please email [email protected], or call 319-384-5053.

The National MS Society’s contribution is part a planned investment of $50 million in 2016, that will fund in part or whole over 380 clinical trials worldwide designed to treat or stop MS progression, restore patients’ ability to function, and, eventually, end the disease forever.